“They looked like angels.” That is how the soldiers of the 82nd Airborne Division appeared to Rena Kornreich, 70 years ago today. After spending more than three years of her young adult life in Nazi death camps, we can understand how her liberators might appear as if they were heaven sent, despite being dressed in khaki. Who were those men who liberated the Holocaust survivor I was such dear friends with?
On this 70th anniversary I decided to find out more about the 82nd Airborne, who liberated Rena and her sister Danka. Did you know that the 82nd Airborne was among the first divisions to paratroop into occupied France? According to several internet sources they fought a record “33 days of bloody combat” after the allies invaded the coast of Normandy. Rena would not see these courageous men for ten more months–in that time she would be death marched from Auschwitz to Ravensbruck and then transported further into the interior, where it was starvation that was killing prisoners, not gas chambers. Finally, on May 2, 1945, the Americans arrived and liberated two concentration camps: Wöbbelin and Neüstadt Glewe. Rena, her sister and Dina (their best friend from childhood) were in the latter.
According to the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, Wöbbelin was an appalling sight with a mound of one-thousand men who had died of starvation. Disgusted, the officers ordered the townspeople of Ludwigslust to walk through the camp and see the horror outside their front doors. Then they forced them to bury the dead. General Dwight D. Eisenhower had mandated “all atrocity victims to be buried in a public place.” In accordance with that policy, the 82nd Airborne made sure that crosses honored Christian graves and the Stars of David honored Jewish graves. (It is amazing to me that anyone can deny the Holocaust when our own soldiers witnessed these atrocities.)
The moment the healthy male prisoners of Wöbbelin were freed they led the Americans to the women’s camp down the road. Using wire cutters to cut the electrical and barbed wires fences, they freed the girls, who ran through the fence, cutting their hands and tearing their clothes on the loose wire to hug strangers. Each other. The free earth beneath their feet. Rena, who had survived almost three years in Auschwitz itself had never seen anything more beautiful than the American soldiers who liberated them…. to find out the rest of this wonderful story you have to read Rena’s Promise
Happy 70th Anniversary, Rena.
“The 82nd Airborne Division was recognized as a liberating unit by the US Army’s Center of Military History and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in 1991.” Source: U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum
Always Believe. Never Forget.